But even then, these animals weren't used only for bloodsport; more than just controlling their fate, their actions could be shaped to our will as well. Soon, these wild creatures were dancing and performing tricks to the ravenous delight of the crowd -- behavior honed only by treatment worse than a swift death.
Pliny, in his Natural History, eludes to these abuses:
"It is known that one elephant which was rather slow-witted in understanding instructions given to it and had been punished with repeated beatings, was found at night practising the same."
Even after the Roman Empire declined, the parading of animals continued to be linked to stately power and control. Kings and lords through the middle-ages collected these beasts en masse, as a source of amusement, and no doubt as symbols of their supremacy over the still mysterious wild. The public's interest in these animals also never waned. Lacking great stadiums in which to present them, caravans of trained beasts would often travel to the people.
These circuses, as they would come to be known, soon sprang up throughout Europe and, by the 1790s, in the New World as well. Often they were not elaborate affairs. In about the year 1815, an early pioneer in the industry, New York native Hackaliah Bailey, traveled throughout New England with a single elephant he purchased from a boat captain who had won it in an auction in London. His success spurred many imitators, and soon exotic animals from throughout the world were imported and exploited for profit.
Perhaps the most successful of these circus tycoons was P.T. Barnum, who in 1841 opened "Barnum's American Museum" in New York. A master promoter, Barnum became immensely wealthy presenting not only wild beasts, but also human "freaks" and other invented curiosities -- like a mermaid, which was just a monkey's head sewn to the body of a fish.